Whats Your Beef?

The Crisis of Unaffordable Housing

Birdie Hall  |   Wednesday Dec. 31st, 2014

It is becoming incredibly difficult to reflect on the woes of affordable housing. I’m not stupid. I can quite visibly recognize that there is something slightly horrible happening here amongst the perfectly manicured neighborhoods and pristine drinking establishments. It is becoming virtually impossible to find affordable housing anywhere, especially here.      
The quaintness of Bozeman’s supposedly isolated aesthetic is beautiful, and it is no surprise that everyone would want to experience it. And they do. As one of America’s fastest growing cities, more and more (mostly wealthy) people are flocking to the “best last place”. This creates a nasty demand for a large supply of “high quality” local housing as well as for gentrification. Gentrification is essentially the change of culture in urban communities so that it may adjust to lifestyles of the rich. It is caused by influxes of wealthy residents, and their impact on property values and economic influence on local business. Sound familiar? 
How many working families do you know here who plan to buy homes locally? Probably none. Here is the situation I have heard from at least a dozen of them: Most have lived in Bozeman for over ten years, accumulating college degrees, jobs, marriage, and two or three children. After renting for a decade, Mum and Dad decide they want decent permanent shelter for their small spawn and two golden retrievers. But there’s virtually nothing realistic on the market to choose from. Even the small townhouses a mile or so from downtown go for over 200k, and new monstrous condos blocks from downtown go for about $750,000 a piece, aimed to “celebrate urban lifestyle in Big Sky Country”. So the optimistic parents (probably less than optimistic after this shocking revelation) are given three options: Apply for assistance from the wonderful HRDC (which essentially works like the lottery), move into the recently built projects located in the concrete wasteland of subsidized condo-ville, or seek housing elsewhere out of town. The third option is the one I hear most often.
A December city hall meeting spoke of the need to increase affordable housing in Bozeman. Although we were shown alarming data on the local housing market, no viable solutions seemed tangible. Housing consultant Daniel Werwath suggested that if more people bought houses, more people would thus have houses to rent out. A nice idea, but if we’ve learned anything from the Reagan era, it’s that trickle-down economics aren’t going to help the middle class anytime soon.
In 2012, Bozeman saw 213 sales on homes priced under $250,000. In 2014, a miserable 93 homes in the same price range were sold. In 2012, 227 homes over $250,000 were purchased. Guess how many were sold in 2014? Over 400. The unequal distribution of housing in this city is staggering, and quite frankly disgusting.

The HRDC barely receives enough funding to keep a temporary homeless shelter from shutting its doors to over 50 homeless citizens, most of who are employed and cannot find housing of any kind. More and more people are being shoved into subsidized apartments, farther away from work, school, and the kindness of a natural landscape. There is no peace of mind for anyone making less than $50,000 a year. There is no simple solution, and to be honest I do not envy city council members who have to tackle this issue. This is a problem that transcends the picture of Bozeman. All I know is that the middle class has been virtually exterminated, and will continue to be pushed away from a decent living standard until this entire country decides to reevaluate how we treat those who are economically and socially underprivileged.

The only important war is class war. As Marx once said, “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”    

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